Independent Cuban journalist freed after being detained for five days during President Obama’s visit to the island

Cuban independent journalist and activist Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca was jailed and held incommunicado for five days after being detained just hours before U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival to Cuba on March 20. The journalist went to the church of Santa Rita, as usual, to cover the march led every Sunday in Havana by the Ladies in White organization, according to Martí Noticias.

A man identified as State security intercepted him and, along with others, beat him on the groups before detaining him, the journalist said. Despite having been cleared, a process was opened against him in which he was accused of assaulting an authority, according to Valle Roca.

“They seem to want to keep this situation as a means of blackmail so that I won’t report or continue with my journalistic activities,” the journalist and blogger said, according to Martí Noticias.

The news site 14ymedio reported that the day of Valle Roca’s arrest, another 60 opponents of the Castro regime who were marching with the Ladies in White also were detained, although only for a few hours.

This group, inspired by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an organization formed following the Argentine military dictatorship of the late seventies (1976-1983), is composed of family and friends of Cuban political prisoners held since 2003 by agents of the government of then-president Fidel Castro, during the so-called black spring.

On March 27, after a year of complaints of repression and arbitrary detentions by the Cuban government during the marches of the Ladies in White, dozens or supporters and members of the organization were arrested before and during the Sunday march. Valle Roca’s house was under heavy police surveillance that day, according to Martí Noticias.

This journalist told the media outlet that the state agents probably had a warrant for his arrest if he left his home.

Human rights organization Freedom House, which called on the Cuban government to immediately release Valle Roca upon learning of his arrest, warned in a statement that “Despite President Castro’s claims to defend human rights, the Cuban government continues its blatant repression of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to peacefully protest.”

According to a 14ymedio interview published by the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), in recent years, Valle Roca has been beaten and detained by police on several occasions for covering the marches of the Ladies in White and reporting and publishing on his digital channel YuriTVNews about police abuses suffered by organizers and attendees.

Additionally, the 2015 annual report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in its evaluation of the state of freedom of expression in Cuba, also documented repeated occasions of violence and repression by state security agents against Valle Roca, among other independent Cuban journalists.

For the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), independent journalists in Cuba cover what the official press largely ignores.

“The Cuban constitution allows the Communist Party to control the news and filter it through its propaganda-minded Department of Revolutionary Orientation. Press rights are granted only ‘in accordance with the goals of the socialist society,’” CPJ said in an analysis of the Cuban black spring.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.